Although my grandmother is nearing 100 years of age, she sadly has had Alzheimer’s disease for years. And, as the baby boomer population of the United States begins to age, the need for prevention and care of Alzheimer’s disease patients will grow with each passing year as more people like my grandmother will develop this devastating form of dementia. The the best effective preventive treatment for Alzheimer’s disease only modestly delay the progression of this disease by months.
Nonetheless, clinicians note that any treatment which can delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease could have a big impact as so many people will develop this condition.
While 5.3 million people in the United States currently have Alzheimer’s disease, an even larger percentage of the population has “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) which may progress to Alzheimer’s disease. By 2030 it is estimated that 7.7 million people in the United States will have Alzheimer’s disease, if nothing is done to find a way to prevent this devastating disorder. Of course greater in number than the 7.7 million people with Alzheimer’s diseases is the immediate family members that it affects as well, which could includes potentially tens of millions of people.
Excitingly, it was recently announced that a major breakthrough in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease might be right around the corner, and interestingly, the medication being studied is not some newfangled neuromodulator, but actually a combination of high doses of certain B vitamins.
The study in question looked at patients who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can progress to dementia in about 50% of cases-often times Alzheimer’s disease-and they discovered that the MCI patients given the following B vitamin regime had a 50% decrease in brain shrinkage when compared to those who got a placebo:
-300 times the recommended allowance of B12 ( 0.5 mg Vitamin B12)
-4 times the daily recommended level of Folate ( 0.8 mg folic acid)
-15 times the recommended amount of B6 (20 mg Vitamin B6 also called pyridoxine)
The pills used in the study were the TrioBe Plus brand of B Vitamins. As you can see, these levels of B vitamins are far in excess of what people normally need to avoid deficiency of these respective vitamins. Meaning that the vitamins used in this study were not given to correct an underlying vitamin deficiency, but were used for other more drug like effects on the body.
Is there a danger with taking too much B vitamins?
According to Dr. Christie Leong, who published an article on the topic here http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Health/20100909/b-vitamins-brain-100909/, the B vitamins are water soluble and thus easily excreted in the body and toxicity due to overdose is rare. However Dr. Leong noted that getting too much Vitamin B6 can be dangerous when taken in doses in excess of 200 milligrams per day as it can cause irreversible nerve damage. In comparison, the TrioBe Plus vitamin used in this study contains only 20 milligrams of Vitamin B6, thus meaning that when taken in even these high doses these amounts of vitamins appear to be safe.
Interestingly, it appears that the patients with MCI who had high levels of homocysteine in the blood benefited from the TrioBe Plus vitamins. This may be because all the B vitamins in the TrioBe Plus pill, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Folic acid, are used to treat elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood. Scientific research has shown that elevated homocysteine levels are an independent risk factor for the the development of Alzheimer’s diseases and dementia. Taken together, this research might indicate that reducing the level of homocysteine in the blood with B vitamins may be an important tool to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Should you take the TrioBe vitamins if you are concerned about Alzheimer’s disease or if you have MCI?
Because taking the TrioBe vitamins is relatively cheap and safe, and because the dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease is such a devastating illness, many people who read the study, including doctors, will likely take the TrioBe vitamins if they’re concerned about Alzheimer’s disease.
Nonetheless, the beneficial effect appears to be limited to patients who have elevated levels of homocysteine in their blood. In the future doctors may measure the level of homocysteine in the blood and prescribe these mega-doses of B Vitamin to help ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientifically, larger studies need to be undertaken and it should be remembered that other research has not shown that B vitamins help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. At most, what can be inferred is that the megadoses of these B vitamins, found in the TrioBe vitamins, may slow the rate of brain shrinkage in patients with MCI. The research suggests that patients on the vitamins have better cognitive performance, but this has not been proven in clinical trials. Doubtlessly, more research will be undertaken.
If I had mild cognitive impairment, then I would take these TrioBe vitamins religiously. This research may be the biggest breakthrough ever for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. And that is something to cheer about.
Plasma Homocysteine as a Risk Factor for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Sudha Seshadri, M.D., Alexa Beiser, Ph.D., Jacob Selhub, Ph.D., Paul F. Jacques, Sc.D., Irwin H. Rosenberg, M.D., Ralph B. D’Agostino, Ph.D., Peter W.F. Wilson, M.D., and Philip A. Wolf, M.D.
The New England Journal of Medicine
February 14, 2002